Americans Growing Too Large for Their Cars

The Cadillac XLR two-seater has a weight capacity of 362 pounds.

Irony of ironies. It sounds like a plot line from "The Simpsons" — and, the fates willing, someday will be — but it seems Americans are growing too obese to be transported safely by many car models.

USA Today has the skinny:

The growing girth of Americans is colliding with
government-mandated warning labels on all 2006 or newer cars that list
the maximum weight — passengers and cargo — that’s safe to carry.

Many two-seat sports cars, including Mazda MX-5 Miata and Chevrolet Corvette, aren’t certified to carry two 200-pound adults, according to a government formula aimed at tire safety.

Many five-passenger vehicles are rated about 850
pounds, maxxing out if their five occupants weigh more than 170 pounds
each. Six 200-pounders would overload the seven-passenger Dodge Grand
Caravan minivan.

The limitations are stamped on a "Tire and
Loading Information" plate on the driver’s side door frame. The ratings
are an outgrowth of the 2000 Firestone tire recall, in which
overloading was considered a factor that could cause tires to fail.
Weight limits are important because automakers could claim they don’t
have responsibility for a component failure or a crash if a vehicle is

Automakers say the limits reflect a mandated federal formula that
requires them to rate passengers at 150 pounds each. The limit may not
be realistic "given American propensity for food, but that is the
regulation," says Mazda safety director Dan Ryan.

Photo: Joits/Flickr

  • Angus Grieve-Smith

    The limit may not be realistic “given American propensity for food, but that is the regulation,” says Mazda safety director Dan Ryan.

    The problem is the American propensity for driving everywhere they can. I personally gained about twenty pounds when I lived in North Carolina. In a lot of the country, walking is something that you do by driving to a designated walking area; biking is similar.

    If Dan Ryan is really concerned about safety and obesity, he should be encouraging people to rebuild their walking infrastructure, but then they wouldn’t be driving his cars on his expressway.

  • Ian Turner

    Angus: The problem is not limited to the American propensity to drive; the desire and ability to drive prompts a tendency for infrastructure to be build around the auto, creating a positive feedback loop where even those of us who would prefer to walk or bicycle are forced to drive, because the distances and environment are so hostile to other modes.

    It is easy to forget that New York City is a pleasant oasis from this situation; in the vast majority of America, even in most cities, living without a car is an abject hardship, undertaken only because of extremely limited means or as a form of political protest.

  • Ian Turner


    I forgot to mention in my screed that from my perspective Mr. Ryan does not appear particularly concerned about safety, obesity, public health in general, or any such thing. Rather, he is concerned with the reputation of his employer, and is attempting to pass blame for the low weight ratings onto federal regulators.

  • Large and in charge

    Check out how “super-sized” restaurant seating booths for places like Applebees and TGIFridays have become. You can fit four 300 pounders in there with enough room for a couple of kids.

  • If people walked more maybe they could fit in their goddamn cars again.

  • Larry Littlefield

    What is interesting is how little weight motor vehicles can carry relative to their own weight. What are we burning all those fossil fuels to move anyway, us or the vehicles we ride in?

    The R160 subway cars are 73,000 pounds and can probably carry up to 40,000 pounds of flesh and accessory fabric in a pinch.

  • It is not a significant problem as most cars are usually occupied by just one person. In fact average car occupancy in Greater Vancouver BC (where I live) is higher than most North American cities and is still only 1.3.

    However, the cars themselves are getting heavier due to the American obsession with massiveness as an indicator of strength/safety, and their preference for using trucks where a small car would probably be adequate for purpose.

  • Spud Spudly

    This story is silly. It’s not a question of people not fitting in their cars, it’s a question of a silly government rule. The gov’t mandated weight capacity of the Caddy in the picture might be 362 pounds but the car can of course safely handle much more weight than that. The gov’t also has rules about removing the tags on mattresses and pillows, but that doesn’t make it newsworthy.

    The auto industry probably donated a few thousand dollars to a few key Republicans to get the regulation enacted and to limit their liability. So now if you have two 185-pound people in a Caddy like this General Motors is immune from many claims regarding mechanical failure. If something goes wrong they can ridiculously say, “Hey, the car was overloaded. It’s right there on the door frame, as mandated by the federal government. Not our fault.”

  • Ocean Railroader

    I think the fate of the human race in Wall-E is going to happen not the stuff in the Rise of the Machines movies.

    What we need is to expland the sidewalk systems in the cities and suburbs to stop this nightmare from happening.


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